Oral arguments slated in forest drilling appeal

Oral arguments are scheduled Thursday in the appeal of a federal preliminary injunction against a U.S. Forest Service moratorium on the drilling of oil and gas wells in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF).A panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will hear the arguments at the Collins J. Seitz Courtroom in the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. Judges expected to serve on the panel include Julio Fuentes, Michael Chagares and Jane Roth.U.S. District Court Judge Sean McLaughlin ruled in December 2009 in Erie that drilling could resume on the 513,000-acre national forest, where 93 percent of the subsurface mineral rights are privately owned.The ruling lifted a Forest Service moratorium on drilling. The moratorium was put in place in April 2009 as part of a settlement of a November 2008 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, the Allegheny Defense Project and the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE). These groups are joining with the Forest Service in appealing McLaughlin's ruling to the federal Appeals Court.According to a notice from the Appeals Court, each side will be given only 15 minutes Thursday to present oral arguments to the judicial